Friday, 25 April 2014

Love for sale

Spotted on Berkshire Alfa dealer Black and White's website - lovely 1965 Alfa Romeo Giulia 1600S racer for sale at nearly £50k, which matters not a jot because it's suvch a thing of beauty and cheap as chips compared with the equivalent  (and more vulgar) Ferrari. For those of us with less cash but more discernment (ie motorcycle and MotoGiro fans) there's also an utterly beguiling Mondial 175 Turismo Veloce at £6,500. Oh, yes please...

Friday, 18 April 2014

Alfa Romeo return to US shores after almost 20 years away.

Ah, cars... not really my thing: too big, get stuck in traffic, not as quick on real roads at fans pretend. Well, not during daylight hours in southern England for most of the year. there are usually traffic jams on routes into London by 6am. But Alfas? Oh yes, I've a real weakness for Alfas: that's were Scuderia Ferrari and Tazio Nuvolari went when they moved to cars (having started with bikes - see back issues of Benzina ).

Sadly finances and family demands mean there's not on in my life right now, but I've owner several in the past and loved them all. So one day, when the nest is empty, hopefully something like the 4C will take up some garage space. In the meantime hopefully Alfa can prosper, and events at the New York motor show might suggest they will. Because Alfa Romeo are returning to US shores after nigh on 20 years away, the firm is planning on dipping its toe into the US market once more, with its two-seater 4C sports car -  available in Europe since earlier this year. With a mostly carbon fibre shell, it can zip from zero to 60mph in just over four seconds.

Alfa Romeo left the US in the mid-1990s, after it failed to compete in a market filled with big players . Owned by Fiat since 1986, its return to the US market has been mooted since 2000, but it is only under Fiat Chrysler chief executive Sergio Marchionne that those discussions gained real traction.

"Alfa needs to play here - they really need to expand their volumes and begin to pay off the product development that's come from Fiat," senior analyst Bill Visnic, from automotive information site told the BBC

 "It's difficult to call yourself a legitimate luxury brand and not be playing in the US market." Hmmm. Or Asia. But at least US Alfa fan Dino Pappous  agrees the new Alfa 4C is "a car that attracts attention for the right reasons - it's subtle and unique”

Apparently the 4C was mobbed at the New York show, despite a small and modest stand, boding well for sales. Jiyan Cadiz, a spokesperson for Alfa Romeo, told the BBC that only 500 4C Launch Edition cars would be available to buyers over the summer, priced at about $70,000 (£42,000). The company says it expects to sell just under a thousand regular 4C models, at a base price of $54,000, by the end of this year. However, Mr Cadiz added: "We do have more products to come - know that we wouldn't start now unless we were truly ready."

Alfa Romeo car at NY Auto show

Sunday, 13 April 2014

You've been framed - the Ducati 748ie to 851 trelliswork

Never really thought about it before, but when the Castiglionis parked Dr. Taglioni up and put Bordi in charge during 1985 it wasn't just the old two-valve heads and carburettors that went on the scrapheap (or not, as it turned out). The 750F1/TT1 racebikes' trellis frame, developed from the TT2 tubes designed by Dr. T, was also pensioned off. The new frame debuted with the 748ie at the 1986 Bol d'Or, and it’s easy to assume the lower and more open cradle design was simply a development to accommodate the fuel injection and, ultimately, the bigger four-valve heads and liquid cooling gubbins. But who designed the new frame?

The top photo is the "Desmoquattro" design team, with (second on the left) Massimo Bordi ,  Gianluigi Mengoli (behind the engine with moustache) and far right  is Franco Farné. Taken from a Dutch site ( the guy on the bike is credited as being  "Roger Manning, designer of the frame". Does anyone know more? Email me if you do - greg at

More intriguingly, the photo below was taken by Pat Slinn at the Montjuic Park races in 1985 (shortly before Tony Rutter was hurt) and initially we were both at a loss to explain the frame – Pat probably hadn’t looked at the photo since ’85! It was in Benzina 5 and had been filed as Pat at Daytona in 1983, but he hadn’t even looked at it until I queried it on Wednesday. Apparently there were a lot of Mototrans people milling around it and looks  to be an Antonio Cobas framed “TT1” for Joan (aka Juan) Garriga to race in the F1 event. Searching the web a couple of European sites have published a bit on these Spanish Cobas frames based on something I think Alan Cathcart wrote - at least someone admits when they’re scanning books! - although it must be from something not in my library.
Someone (Spanish!) also claims that Taglioni wouldn’t test the Cobas frame because he would never admit someone might be cleverer than him, but it does look like a prototype for the 748ie/851 frame. Garriga crashed on the same oil that brought Tony Rutter down while leading the race (below), and the bike was apparently then spirited away by Ducati. It was certainly later raced by Rino Caracchi’s son at Daytona (where Kenny Roberts tried it  (bottom pic)) and still lives in the NCR workshops today. So is this genesis for every post-Pantah Ducati frame until the Panigale and DS16 MotoGP project? Certainly looks like it to me, and Antoni Cobas was a genius: he was the man who invented the twin spar grand prix frame, after all. And if he was the originator of the Ducati 851 through 1198 frame, it would be nice to see his contribution recognised

Monday, 7 April 2014

Rest in peace, Massimo Tamburini - the greatest of the great?

Rest in peace, Massimo Tamburini, who passed away last night at the age of 71. He was the greatest innovator, to my mind at least, during arguably motorcycling's most innovative era. I was blown away by the SB2 when I saw it at an Earls Court show circa 1977, and the same thing happened when I saw the Paso (his first design for the Castiglionis and Ducati). When the 916 debuted at the NEC in November 1993 I stayed till the end of the show to be able to see it without crowds climbing all over it: this despite promising Dr Girlie Nice-Smile - pregnant with our first child - that I'd be home early. I'm lucky to have owned various Pasos and 916-series bikes and, despite being too ancient and slow to justify a 916 anymore, I still have a 916 Strada just because it's so beautiful and the last truly groundbreaking bike. This despite Massimo preferring fours to twins, in sportsbikes at least.

This photo tribute includes his MV café racer courtesy AH Herl Inc, the SB2 via Made in Italy Motorcycles, the HB1 from Bonham's - and the rest are mine. We featured the Paso in Benzina issue 1, and told the story of his 1960s MV Agusta café racer in issue 9. In fact, looking through the back issues of Benzina  his name and bikes come up again and again, the last couple of issues covering the SB2. Massimo was a giant of motorcycling history, and will be sadly missed. What a follows is the tribute and obituary by Italian moto-journalist Bruno de Prato - you can read the full piece on the Cycle World website.


My great friend, Massimo Tamburini, the man who designed the Ducati 916, passed away last night. Last November, he started not feeling well, but he thought it was simply a light fever related to a bad cough. Since he was not recovering as quickly as expected, he went for a check-up, which revealed that he had lung cancer. For the first time in years, we had to cancel our New Year’s Eve dinner at his residence. Since then, he was under intensive chemotherapy treatment at a highly advanced medical center not far from his home in San Marino.
To make sure he was receiving the best possible treatment, I arranged a medical consultation for him at the best oncology center in Milan. The doctors there confirmed that the chemotherapy treatment he was receiving was the most effective to treat his specific form of cancer. Perhaps they told him this to give him some hope, as hope can be a positive factor to help recovery.
Sadly, the health of Massimo did not improve. Every time I called him, I could detect a sense of growing weakness in his voice, which was also terribly sad.
Massimo Tamburini will be remembered as one of the greatest innovators in motorcycle chassis design, and also as a superb stylist. He was blessed by a great ability to work with his hands, plus a great passion and dedication to his job. But, above all, he will remain in the heart of all who were lucky enough to know him as a man of supreme ethics and loyalty, a straight-talker who was known for his great gentleness.
His first creation was a totally revised MV Agusta 750 Sport, which he made in 1971 using a frame he welded himself. He kept doing this after founding Bimota with his partners, Morri and Bianchi. At first, he designed a chassis with twin diagonal spars, and then he refined the concept of monoshock rear suspension. As is common with most loyal men, Tamburini got stabbed in the back by his partner and had to leave Bimota. He was hired by Claudio Castiglioni, then in command of the Cagiva Group, which included MV Agusta (where he created the F4 750) and Ducati, for which he designed the Paso 750 and then his most celebrated creation: the aforementioned Ducati 916.
Massimo Tamburini made this a better world and he will be terribly missed. Rest in peace, my friend.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

MV Agusta 500 Grand Prix triple running - Ago's 1971 TT bike

Pass the ear defenders! Hear the howl of a 1970 MV 500/3 on this clip of a genuine MV Agusta triple (even the one Giacomo Agostini parades is a modern replica) and almost certainly the bike Ago used to win the 1971 Senior TT. I did the research and story for the April 2014 edition of Classic Bike magazine. Thanks to all at Made in Italy Motorcycles (who sourced and sold this bike) for their help and support - and letting us hear it run; unbelievably loud